The still night’s chill pushed a young couple into the embrace of their tribal elders. Arrayed in all corners of the large log building, the bodies of men and women were gathered. Smoke from incense and pipes spilled up and circled within the roofing. Cloaked in robes of reeds and scales, six women circled a small pedestal at the center of the group. The eldest of the village took the wrapped child from its mother and shuffled back to the circle. Then, with the silence of stars, the elder placed the bundled child on the stone marker, ready to start the Illumination.
To begin, the child must be asleep, secure in its infant mind that all is well. The eldest of the tribe—a bony woman who had forsaken her name long ago for the title of Celestaon, speaker to the stars, led the ceremony. She unwrapped the babe in a smooth motion, as she did for all children. She spoke the names of the Seven Celestial Chiefs, the great beings that hold the dark at bay. Celestaon invoked their attention to look on the new member of their tribe with grace.
The parents kneeled in anxiety, knowing their hopes for the child were not their own, now. Both parents had been deemed merchants, to trade with other clans and even the people beyond the land of Misten. Their fate, much like their child’s, was decided during their own Illumination.
Finally, the prayers ended, and chants began as the Eldest placed her hand upon the chest of the baby. She felt its warmth and the flutter of its heart beneath her wrinkled palm. With the subtlest of senses, she focused her Reach, the limit of her magic’s influence, at the center of the child’s chest.
From within the babe, gently at first, came her raw magic, liquid and glittering in its form. Benign, but leaving its stain nonetheless. All mages bore such a stain for pushing their magic out into the world.
A set of speckles would appear before the child awoke and ended the ritual. Waking would tell them the child was almost out of its magic. As the body tried to fight the pull in the only way it could.
The cries of the child brought everyone’s attention to the end of the ceremony. Waiting for the Celestaon to announce where the new member of their tribe would belong. The leaders of each Constalari shouldered their way to the center, ready to embrace the child. After the elders huddled around the child, they called for the Star Chart to find the closest constellation match to the speckles of stain. As the anticipation grew, no answer came.
In quick movements, Celestaon grabbed up the baby as the other elders pushed a path through the crowd. The moment of wondering bought her time to escape the questioning and get to her home. As she reached the edge of the steps, she prepared to run across the waterway.
As her bare foot was about to strike the surface, she stretched out with her Reach and pushed the heat out from the surface and below—a process so second nature that it took little thought at her age. The slabs of frozen water contrasted to her warmed skin, but each step was so brief most were barely noticed.
Behind her she heard the uproar of her tribe members. This was unheard of, but she couldn’t let them see the child’s mark. The tribe has no place for anomalies. Every member must fit. This anomaly needed thought, and she feared the direction of impulsive Constalari leaders.
Celestaon’s home was close now, a place few would invade out of the respect her role demanded. The simple clay home was built onto a large wooden platform with stilts to save it from the harsh change in tides and the natural swamp conditions. She finally reached the set of steps to her home and turned to see a couple of elders escorting the parents by canoe. She pushed through the door and into her home, the scent of herbs welcoming her. The gentle stirrings of her guest pulled her from relaxing, and she absentmindedly rocked the child.
Celestaon sat at a table as the door opened. In shuffled the parents and the elder for the Merchant Constalari. The arguing of the clan trailed in behind them.
“What is going on?” the mother asked, worry etched in her words and on the father’s face.
Celestaon merely looked at them and at their child. “She doesn’t have any markings for our clans.”
The parents stared, uncomprehending. “What does that mean?” the father asked, wrapping his arm around his wife.
The other elder had the same quizzical look; she had never heard of such a thing before. She stepped over to Celestaon’s chair and looked down at the child, now awake. They had named her Aliene, and she was squirming with her eyes darting around, unable to focus on any one thing.
“We will have to convene with the other Elders to ultimately decide,” Celestaon’s words still held a muted tone. “But her mark is,” she paused, “Troubling.”
Celestaon unwrapped the child, showing them the markings that formed a faint eight-pointed star. No more than a finger’s length in diameter, but clear as day. Aliene had no marks like the rest, and her position could not be determined with such a showing. To followers of the seven celestial chiefs, she may as well not be of the Misten clans.
“We will most likely have to exile this child; she will be cast into the other lands of Savea.” Celestaon knew her odds. Misten was one of the southernmost countries. To wander the wilds alone was the end of anyone but the most experienced mages. They were forced to give her up to the wayward nature of fate.